expectations in retirement

Expectations in Retirement

Is the key to Retirement lower expectations?


We expect a lot out of Retirement. What if the key to a successful retirement is to lower our expectations?

After all, we will spend a third or more of our life in Retirement. After all that hard work, should we not expect some happiness or at least fun?

If you want happiness in Retirement, let me tell you why the key to retirement happiness is to lower your expectations.


Expectations lead to Unhappiness

What are expectations?

If expectations are the certitude that something positive or negative will happen, we set ourselves up for a bumpy ride.

We certainly can expect the sun to rise tomorrow and plan for our eventual demise. Still, these expectations are based upon natural phenomena that all can expect in certitude.

Yes, eventually, the sun won’t rise, and eventually (in the infinite multiverse), well, I’m not going to speculate if technology will prevent the loss of consciousness from a physical form when life ends, but you either think they are risen, or you don’t (which is the same thing logically as persistent consciousness minus the physical form).

Aside from these assured conclusions based upon natural laws (that most may agree with), it is best to abandon expectations for your Retirement.

Don’t get me wrong; you still need to cling to whatever form of logic you decide is best for you. Just because you don’t expect things doesn’t mean that you can decide the chance of the sun (or you!) rising tomorrow is 50/50. There are infinitely good chances that the sun will rise tomorrow, and if you are healthy today, most tomorrows, you will wake up healthy as well. Don’t abandon logic and usually bet the odds.

But expectations in Retirement lead to Unhappiness. Both when fulfilled and when unfulfilled.


Fulfilled Expectations Are Not Happiness

What? If I don’t get what I want (or if I do!), either way, if I expect an outcome my happiness is diminished?

And that is why it suits you to lower your retirement expectations.

If you get what you expect, gratitude decreases.

If you don’t get what you expect, you get gratuitous pain.

Let’s look at both.


Gratuitous Pain in Retirement

The concept of “gratuitous pain” leaped from the pages of Happiness Is A Serious Problem. [sponsored link]

The author gives the example of waking up with a mass somewhere on your body. You see your doctor and then wait a month to get the consultation, biopsy, and pathology results.

The day your path comes back benign, you feel relief. It might be one of the happiest days of your life!

But what physically is different between the day you get the results and the day before when you had spent a frustrating month waiting for the system to churn you through?

You spent a month of anxious dread expecting the worst. Only when you get the result do you feel relief. But what happened to that mass that day? Did it somehow change, or did your thinking about it change?

You thought yourself into gratuitous pain by feeling the mass and then seeking medical attention (with all the subsequent worries attached). The mass didn’t cause the problems; your expectations of the mass did.

Nothing in your health changed overnight, yet you are suddenly happy. Or, perhaps, you made yourself unhappy with the waiting, and then with the result (the solution of the expectation), you were happy that you were just as healthy as the day before you found the mass in the first place.

“But Ideally, we should awaken every day and be as happy about our good health as if we had just received the wonderful news that a lump was diagnosed as benign” ~Dennis Prager

So if your expectations are unfulfilled, you have caused yourself unnecessary (or gratuitous) pain. Interesting.


Even If Expectations are Met, There is Unhappiness

But the flip side leads to Unhappiness as well.

So if you have unfulfilled expectations, you are unhappy. But if you get what you expect, you might become less grateful.

Please stick with me for a moment because gratitude causes happiness, not the other way around. “All happy people are grateful, and ungrateful people cannot be happy” is as it is italicized in Mr. Prager’s book.

He argues that nothing undermines gratitude as much as expectations do (mine). As for your health, are you only grateful when you no longer fear you might lose it or are you grateful for your health every day you wake up healthy?

As for the sun rising, does it make you happy or grateful that it will rise tomorrow? Probably neither, as you expect it to. But to truly be happy, you might consider gratitude when it rises. As simple as that. It is wonderful that it is, and we don’t even need to set expectations.

Perhaps harder to grasp is that the opposite must be true as well. High gratitude = increased happiness, so axiomatically low g = low h (what about low t? I’m not going down that retirement rabbit hole).

If many wonderful things you didn’t expect come your way, you might have a happy day! But, if you expect wonderful things to come your way and they don’t, well, your expectations set you up for Unhappiness.

I bet you are not convinced. So let me try another way to explain it.


Gratitude is Joy in Retirement

Brene Brown takes it a step further, stating: “…the difference between happiness and joy (is) the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”

Please don’t get caught up with Dr. Brown talking about Joy vs. Happiness (Prager points out that there is no good definition of happiness, and it is often best to attempt to reduce Unhappiness as a result). The main difference for Dr. Brown: Joy adds to happiness by ascribing a spiritual quality to joy provided by gratitude.

Listen, it is not the other way around. Joyful people are not grateful for their good results in life. Grateful people (who are grateful because they have low expectations) are joyful. Further, the daily practice of gratitude cultivated spiritually creates happiness in our life. Think about that for a second.

And if you have another second, check out my blog on gratitude and joy in retirement.


How to be Happy in Retirement

So, to be happy in Retirement, you can practice gratitude daily or reduce your expectations. How about that for a prescription for retirement happiness?

As to how to minimize expectations, Prager offers three suggestions:

  1. Do not fear that not having expectations leads to less success or even less optimism
  2. Acknowledge that expectations are actually harmful in your life
  3. Express gratitude for all the good already in your life

As for me, this smacks of a spiritual process. Lower fears, admit faults and have faith. Indeed, fear of scarcity is the thief of joy.

When you experience joy, you might be scared because you know it will not last, and your fear freezes your joy. It is a common human condition to wait for the other shoe to drop when things are going well.

We live in a culture of scarcity, and I’ve commented that my fear of scarcity scares me in Retirement.

Instead of scarcity and fear, find joy in the ordinary moments of your life. Express gratitude that they happen. You are grateful that ordinary moments of joy happen when you let go of your expectations and delight in the moment.

That spiritual pursuit interests me; let uncertainty guide me to faith (or trust in) gratitude provides joy.

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.” This quote from Anne Lamott offers us uncertainty, vulnerability, and a lack of expectations.

We experience happiness when we remember that gratitude is a continuous spiritual practice. Be grateful for the unexpected moments of joy, and don’t fear (or expect) anything but what is. Seeking certainty is seeking scarcity, just as joy is being grateful for what is already in your life.


Pain in life comes from unfulfilled desires and expectations ~Buddhist Teaching


Posted in Retirement.